An Asian Games silver medal, an Asian Championships gold and a national record in the 400 metres, that’s been barely touched by anyone. Muhammed Anas Yahiya’ achievements in Indian athletics are something that many current and aspiring athletes can only dream of.
The Nilamel Express has been one of India’s leading quarter-milers for a while. While he’s bossed the 400m distance in style, Anas’ contribution to the 4x400m relay team has been noteworthy too.
Running was always in Anas’ family. His father was a state-level athlete but for the Kerala man, reaching the heights he has in his career included a few detours.
Growing up in Nilamel, a quiet village in Kollam district of Kerala, Anas and his younger brother, Anees would run their way to school and back. It’s not that their parents couldn’t afford transport for their children, but the two were adamant that they would go to school on foot, something those who know the boys believe laid the foundation for their careers ahead.
Anas’ journey started with him joining a local sports club run by Ansar, his first coach. Though the youngster was the fastest runner in the village, his coach wanted him to try his hand at long jump as he thought that his lean frame and speed would complement the discipline.
Ansar was not completely wrong as Anas went on to win his school championship that very year and looked set to climb the sporting ladder.
But even before he could begin, Anas suffered a setback. His father, Yahiya, who was working in Saudi Arabia at the time, passed away. With two sons by her side, his mother Sheena was not keen on having her boys involve themselves in sports as she thought that would distract them from academics.
However, with coach Ansar’s assurance over her son’s future, Sheena would eventually budge. Her only demand? That he complete Class 10 (secondary school level) with a good score.
To live up to the promise seen in him, Anas would wake up in the small hours of the day to spend close to three hours with his books before heading out to hone his skills with coach Ansar.
As a result, the youngster cleared his Class 10 exams with 84 per cent marks and was enrolled into a school known to nurture sporting talent in a nearby town on his coach’s advice.
It was here that the coaches moved him back to the running track. After some fine-tuning, the runner in Anas came out in full force as he made the State meet that very year and won a bronze. Then, at the National Championships, he clinched the 400m gold to announce himself as one to watch out for.
Some quality performances at the inter-university meets and the Nationals saw Anas being admitted into the Lakshmibai National College of Physical Education, Thiruvananthapuram, where he developed into a runner of international prowess.
As the medals started accumulating, Anas, in 2016, broke the 400m national record not once, but twice. The second instance, a 45.40 seconds time at the Polish Athletics Championship, saw him qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics. This was also only the third time that an Indian had qualified for the 400m event at the Olympics after KM Binu and the legendary Milkha Singh.
While the past years have seen Anas improve his time, the Indian remains a fair distance away from being considered among the world’s elite. Qualification for the Tokyo Olympics next years remains a target still to be achieved, but his immediate goal will be to help the 4x400m relay team put up a respectable show at the 2019 IAAF World Championships later this month.